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How Amazon Warehouse Policies Put Employees at Risk

How Amazon Warehouse Policies Put Employees at Risk

The tragic collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, during the historic tornado outbreak in the Midwest last week, is raising questions about Amazon's policies and protocols for protecting the e-commerce giant's packing facilities and protecting workers during disasters. Despite hours' notice that severe weather was imminent, workers were not sent home before the tornado struck the warehouse and killed six people.

The tornado appeared relatively suddenly, but it shouldn't have caught warehouse managers off-guard. The National Weather Service's official tornado warning came just 22 minutes before the tornado—but the haste timing is specific to tornadoes. More importantly, the National Weather Service warned of a moderate risk of tornadoes the day before the disaster, so anyone running the facility should have been on their guard.

But importantly, there was no legal obligation for how the Edwardsville warehouse was required to respond to warnings. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires emergency action plans to include evacuation procedures for most businesses, but U.S. law leaves it up to employers to decide whether to leave employees home before a natural disaster. to send or not. An OSHA spokesperson wrote in an email to The Verge that they were "not aware of any policy or requirement for closing businesses and sending people home."

Experts in the emergency management sector agree that such a policy will never be implemented nationally, due to its unpopularity with businesses and how it can cut into profits. Also, every business is different - and there may be some that have more critical operations or contain components that can be dangerous if left alone.

Laura Myers, senior research scientist at the University of Alabama's Center for Advanced Public Safety, said, "They will never have a law or policy to do this, because it's the private sector. They can do whatever they want to do." " Director of.

In short, it was Amazon's choice whether the tornado risk was serious enough to shut down the factory -- and the company chose to keep the warehouse running.

"The phenomenon itself has opened many people's eyes that maybe we've had this patchwork quilt for a long time, and maybe it's time to put those pieces together," says Kimberly Klokov-McClean, a research scientist at the cooperative. Institute for Severe and High Impact Weather Research and Operations.

Amazon did not respond to questions from The Verge about why it decided to keep its warehouses open despite the bad weather. OSHA is currently investigating what happened on the night the tornado struck.

In an email to The Verge, Amazon PR manager Alisa Carroll said that "emergency response training is provided to new employees and this training is strengthened throughout the year."

She further said that the company updated its cellphone policy in 2020 due to COVID, "to allow our employees to have their phones with them. All reporting that it has been withdrawn pre-COVID, Just not true and factually incorrect. Phones are important for receiving alerts about inclement weather and can be especially important for workers if their employers aren't taking action.

Carroll said that "OSHA guidance clearly states that when there is a tornado warning, one should seek shelter immediately. Our leaders on the ground followed their training and did exactly that, fast-forward to get people asylum immediately." were growing up." It saved many lives from this storm."

Still, this tragedy fits the troubling pattern of Amazon warehouse workers living in extreme and even dangerous conditions in their positions. In June, during a record heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, some workers at an Amazon warehouse in Washington state said many workstations lacked working fans, and temperatures inside the facility were near 90 degrees. At Amazon's JFK8 facility in Staten Island, workers reported in July that the warehouse was too hot, while they were prompted to "work at a non-stop pace."

Edwardsville warehouse workers told The Intercept that they received almost no emergency training and were discouraged from taking time off during natural disasters—something that appears to be common in the company's warehouses. Courteney Brown, an employee at the Amazon Fresh warehouse in Avenel, New Jersey, told The Verge that workers there have received little training about what to do in an emergency. "They teach you how to do things, what you have to do, then you go on your own, and that's it," Brown said.

Brown recalled an incident when a chemical leak occurred at the facility. "Only the front of the warehouse was evacuated, until the fire department found out 'Oh wait, there are hundreds of people behind the warehouse?'" he said. At first the bench staff didn't know there was an emergency, Brown said, and when they realized what was happening, no one was sure where to go. "We just started yelling at everyone for getting out the dock doors, we tried to get everyone out."

There are also structural factors that can put warehouses at greater risk. Warehouses are often built using "tilt construction," says Matt May, director of the Department of Emergency Management for the Unified Government of Wyandot County and Kansas City, Kansas. Concrete slabs are bent to form a wall and are then held upright by their connection to the ceiling. It's a practice that engineers criticized in the wake of a 2011 tornado that destroyed a Home Depot in Joplin, Missouri. This could be a major issue for worker safety in the US, as warehouses have replaced offices as the most common commercial buildings.

Historically, building codes have not addressed the strong winds associated with tornadoes, according to Anne Cope, chief engineer of the nonprofit research organization Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. But OSHA's guidance on tornadoes says "avoid auditoriums, cafeterias, and gymnasiums that have flat, wide-span roofs" -- structures similar in size to warehouses.

"The biggest challenge for [Amazon] is their buildings themselves," says May.

The tragedy is already prompting labor groups, who see it as part of a wider problem with the company. Eric Frumin is the health and safety director of the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), a coalition of four labor unions that has pushed for action against Amazon, and says the Edwardsville death has been addressed by Amazon for workers. was charged from customers. Can be put through the practice of putting forward.

"What's its top priority? They're not shy about that: The company says it's obsessed with making customers happy," he said in an interview with The Verge. "And everything else, including worker safety, be damned."

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